Liverpool will take on Villarreal in the second leg of the Europa League semifinal tie on Thursday evening, which is arguably the most important fixture of the 2015/16 season for the Reds.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Reds find themselves slightly on the back foot ahead of the match. Not only do they need to score twice on the night, but make sure they don’t concede one.
Villarreal players are heading into this fixture with a relaxed frame of mind. The Yellow Submarine have qualified for next season’s Champions League, and are looking to cause a major upset here.
Jurgen Klopp, the Reds manager, said ahead of the match that it was quite normal to lose away from home in European games, but he is looking for a positive response from his side in the return leg.
“It’s a normal result. In Europe, you can lose away,” Klopp said. “We have thought a lot about our game. We know their strength. Our skills, quality, passion, readiness together with the atmosphere at Anfield, that’s what I’m looking for.
“We know we have 90-something minutes. It’s not about being patient, it’s about being patient with a clear direction.
“We have to know about the game, not with pressure, only with joy. It’s only playing football. Football is a fair game. If we play our best then we can go to the final.”
Klopp has two major selection decisions to make ahead of this game. German midfielder Emre Can has returned to training after recovering quickly from a season-threatening injury and been practising with the squad since Monday. Klopp probably would not have hurried him into the first team in a normal circumstance, but on a special occasion like this where Liverpool need to win, he probably will be tempted to use his fellow compatriot from the beginning.
Liverpool will be looking to dominate the midfield and dictate the tempo throughout the game, and therefore Klopp would probably be thinking of a three-man midfield to start with. With James Milner certain to start, either Lucas or Allen could be sacrificed in order to accommodate Can into the midfield set up.
The most crucial decision he needs to make, however, is whether to start with Daniel Sturridge. The England striker was left on the bench in the first leg, with Klopp using Roberto Firmino upfront in the false 9 role. But, at Anfield, where Liverpool are expected to dominate right from the go, the Reds need their best striker to spearhead the attack.
Sturridge failed to thank the Liverpool supporters in the Reds’ 3-1 defeat to Swansea on Sunday, and his future at the club has been a subject of constant speculation.
“I was waiting for this question. He could be, 100 per cent, but I’ve made no decision yet about the line-up,” said Klopp when asked if Sturridge would start against the La Liga side on Thuraday. “In all these thoughts, Daniel Sturridge is absolutely involved.”
How Liverpool could line up vs Villarreal
4-2-3-1 formation: Sturridge, Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana comprise Liverpool’s best attacking quartet and it would be foolish to leave any of them on the bench. This would however see Liverpool reverting to a two-man midfield, with Can / Allen likely to partner alongside Milner.
The problem of going with too many attacking minded players leave the risk of opening the game up, with Villarreal capable of punishing Liverpool on the counter. Furthermore, Can may lack sharpness due to a lack of match practice, and Klopp would be advised to hold back his key player and call him upon if and whenever required.
4-3-3 formation: Should Liverpool go with this formation, Klopp will have an extra body in the midfield, allowing the Reds to control the game. In such a situation, one of his key attacking players must be sacrificed. An early goal will ease the pressure and help Liverpool exert an authority over the game. But, can Klopp afford to drop Sturridge to the bench again? Probably, not.